Legionnaires’ disease tends to lead the news when an outbreak occurs from a source in a public place.
Just a few recent examples:
- An outbreak of the bacterial infection at a hotel in Atlanta this summer is suspected in dozens of probable cases.
- A hot tub led to an outbreak at a New Hampshire hotel last year that killed two and sickened dozens more, state health officials reported.
- An outbreak from an unidentified source last year in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, affected more than a dozen, killing one.
- Meanwhile, three cases were linked to a hotel in Casselton, North Dakota, earlier this year.
Legionnaires’ disease, or legionellosis, can cause pneumonia. It leads to death in 10% of cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Those who develop pneumonia after possible exposure to the Legionella bacteria should see a doctor immediately.
How Legionnaires’ disease spreads
Legionnaires’ disease spreads when the bacteria is present in water systems, and people breathe small droplets into their lungs, the CDC says. Legionella bacteria naturally grow in ponds and streams. Water systems that are not disinfected enough can become contaminated with Legionella. These water systems can include showers, fountains, pools and hot tubs.
The disease isn’t contagious and can be treated with antibiotics, typically in the hospital.
Symptoms of Legionnaires’ pneumonia cases include a cough, shortness of breath, muscle aches, a headache and fever, the CDC says. Risk factors include age (50 or older), being a smoker (previous or current), and having a chronic lung disease or weakened immune system.
Legionnaires’ disease may sicken between 8,000 and 18,000 U.S. residents annually, according to the South Dakota Department of Health.
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